Fashion Design, Textiles, Curator, Tattoo Apprentice

Tattoo Style Focus: Hand Poke, Whai Tohu

“When it comes to tattooing, I’m considering how I can have less impact on Papatuanuku. That’s how our tupuna lived, so hand poke for me is another way of tattooing sustainably.” - Liam Makawe

Liam Makawe, was born in New Zealand and is proud to be of Maori descent. His creative journey started as a young child, and has flourished over the past 6 years in the time he has resided in Tauranga.

He is a father, covering a various range of creative expressions, from Artist to Fashion Designer, and has recently been appointed as a Whai Tohu which has made him want to walk the path of his ancestors.


He is an eclectic creative, approaching his practice from a sustainable point of view. Through his practices he is reusing, reducing and recycling, staying connected to his culture and achieving all with an open mind.


‘Whai tohu’ signifies distinguishing marks which I develop to symbolise the stories of my clients, while paying homage to the natural, living and spiritual world which connects us all.

Inserting ink into skin by hand allows me to connect to my cultural traditions; Celtic, Croatian and Maori, through a time honoured practice and design tradition. The process is simple but less painful, meditative, very aesthetic and heals without trauma. My approach to designing for meaning is currently influenced by the very old symbolic designs Maori used in a range of weaving practices, the link between weaving and body marking being one of spiritual protection for the wearer and our interconnectedness through genealogy with the whenua - land; Papatuanuku.


Hand poke tattooing is the term used to describe the oldest skin marking traditions practiced by indigenous cultures the world over before technology and steel tools.

The oldest tattooed man, found in 1991 in the Otzal Alps , Italy is dated to 3200 – 3600 BC and his markings are believed to be connected to the relief of joint pain.
One of the oldest woman found with markings has been identified as a priestess of the goddess Harthor, Egypt, dated to 2100 BC. 

The early traditions of tattoo appear to be related to therapeutic, fertility and protective purpose, the tradition of symbolic  significance being distinctive to indigenous marking practices worldwide.

The process of applying markings by hand, reminds us of the significance of origins of meaning and purpose for tattooing which goes beyond the merely aesthetic practice that western tattoo has evolved towards. Hand poke has its own design qualities, aesthetic and spiritual essence and the practice connects to rich, older belief systems.